Friday, 21 February 2014

Publishing an archaeology PhD part 1





I am writing this post in response to this request on Twitter about how to go about publishing an archaeology PhD. As I am now fairly experienced in this area, I felt it would be a good idea to share my knowledge. Please do comment if you have different experiences! How to publish is something that I was never explicitly told about during my PhD, though in hindsight it’s this kind of information that would have been incredibly useful. I think sometimes the more senior we get into the academic hierarchy we can forget that the things that seem so obvious do not come naturally (at least, not without a lot of unnecessarily wasted time and potentially mistakes). So here is my quick guide to publishing a PhD. I will do more on this in a future post as there is a lot to cover.

The first thing to think about is whether your thesis is suitable for a monograph (i.e. book) or whether it would work better as an article or series of articles/papers. This in turn depends on the subject of your thesis. As a general rule, science subjects prefer papers, humanities focus on monographs. Archaeology as usual is a bit of an odd one as it is so interdisciplinary, so it really does depend on the topic of your thesis. You may even do a mix, book and an article or two. I have chosen two different case studies here that I am familiar with that fit both ends of the spectrum, myself (science based) and a colleague, Aleks Pluskowski (medieval archaeology) who provided some useful tips on choosing a book publisher.

Articles. There are two major things to consider – where to publish, and how to present it. You’ll come to realise that although it should be the quality of your work that is judged, where you  publish is important. International peer reviewed journals are where you need to start, and start with the most prestigious that you think your work is suitable for. Nature and Science, followed by PNAS are the sexy, high impact ones. But you’re not going to have a chance unless you have The Earliest Evidence for Something That Sounds Exciting, The Latest Argument for Neanderthal Burials etc. These journals have a very wide audience and cover the sort of archaeology that makes the news.

If your stuff is good then it's more likely you want to aim for something like Antiquity or American Antiquity, which publish papers of wide significance and/or interest to the discipline as a whole. After that there are journals which are international but focused on a specific approach, like Journal of Archaeological Science. There are many that fall into this category, I'll do another post with more details. If you can't decide where to submit, have a think, where are the papers you read published? Is there a similar paper you like, where did they publish? If you are rejected, try again. Rejection sucks but you have to get used to it, and learn from reviewer comments. I am going to expand on this is another post with some insights from my experience as a reviewer and editor.

How to present your work – there is a balance to strike here between quantity and quality. I always say go for the latter, but in reality having a handful of papers rather than just 1 does catch the eye better on a CV (I say this from being on a selection panel where the other members raved about the 30+ papers on a candidate’s CV). However you need to be aware of what is called ‘salami slicing’, where you divide bits of data from the same study into different papers. Now sometimes this works well when you have a lot to say, that is difficult to articulate into one coherent paper. My 3 papers (below) on middens at Çatalhöyük is an example. The work is related but didn’t work as a single paper as there was too much to fit in to one coherent paper. But, if it is possible to combine different data sets into an overall paper, this could be a better option. It is likely to get more citations, have a higher impact, and demonstrates an integrated, high level approach to research rather than bitty incremental work.

So, for books. The rule here is, go for a quality academic publisher with peer review, avoid so-called ‘vanity’publishers. Like journals, aim for the best one you can. ‘Best’ is of course subjective, but ask specialists in your field which publishers are respected and good to work with, and check out other people’s work that you think is comparable to yours – where did they publish?  Think also about presentation and format. Some academic publishers have limited options for figures/colour figures, or produce hardback volumes that are very expensive and aimed at libraries. Fine for text-heavy historical theses, not for archaeology. Find a book you like the look of. Aleks said this was a drawback for his first book which has a (let's face it) kinda dull cover and costs £50, whereas his second book with Routledge has an eye catching cover, plenty of figures and costs £25. It also has the 'look inside' function on Amazon.

 Publishers are also keen to fit things into existing series - so if you can find something that your book can slot into, that will certainly help to convince them. This one may not be possible with a PhD, but if you can it is also advisable to get a grant to lower the price to something affordable, preferably a paperback, and if they can provide digital versions even better.

You want a publisher that is going to make your work accessible, by good/suitable presentation, and a wide distribution. Do they have a stand at the major conferences? If you have a thesis that is good, but might be too niche for a major publisher like OUP or CUP, then try one of the speciality publishers. Oxbow and Archaeopressare great publishers who specialise in archaeology. The latter focus on theses and conference proceedings. They may not have as much prestige as the big names, but they are still highly regarded.

It is worth noting here the difference between a single authored monograph, and an edited volume (including site monographs and conference proceedings). Although edited volumes are used a lot in archaeology, in terms of 'prestige' they are pretty far down the list. If you have a paper you are considering for a chapter in an edited volume, have a think about whether a version of it could go in a journal like Antiquity or American Antiquity. This way you also have control over the timing, instead of having to wait potentially years for an edited volume to come out. My own chapters in the new Catalhoyuk monograph (published end of 2013, the papers came out in 2011) are a good example, and I know this is also the case with other specialists too.

This is a brief guide on where to start if you are planning an academic career  - I am not taking into account here some of the problems with ‘traditional’ publishing, e.g. whether you should go for open access or the questionable ethics of some of the big name journals. I think as a new PhD you  unfortunately can’t afford to take the risk of doing a non-traditional route, academic jobs are still going to be looking for the traditional publications. 


Shillito, L.-M., and Matthews, W. (2013). Geoarchaeological Investigations of Midden-Formation Processes in the Early to Late Ceramic Neolithic Levels at Çatalhöyük, Turkey ca. 8550–8370 cal BP Geoarchaeology: an International Journal 28: 25 – 49

Shillito, L-M., Matthews, W., Almond, M.J. and Bull, I.D. (2011) The microstratigraphy of middens: capturing daily routine in rubbish at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey Antiquity 85(329): 1024 - 1038.

Shillito, L-M. (2011) Simultaneous thin section and phytolith observations of finely stratified deposits from Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey: implications for paleoeconomy and Early Holocene paleoenvironment Journal of Quaternary Science 26(6) 576–588





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